(Cinque Terre, Italy – 22-26 April 2014) There are many picturesque coastlines in the world, but perhaps none hold the same magical appeal as Cinque Terre. Literally meaning “five lands,” this stretch of high-cliffed and rocky shoreline sprinkled with quaint villages has become a magnet for tourists since some really smart visionary decided to link five of these beautiful towns with a walking path.
The towns are also connected by train and a regular ol’ highway, but that’s not what brings people like us (and thousands more) to Cinque Terre. The walking paths take visitors from one charming sea-side village to the next, through backyards and vineyards, above the surf, and sometimes through the woods, too. Paths start and end at whichever authentic Italian gem you come to next. The walking distance between the five towns varies from about an hour to almost two. This means it is possible to complete the Cinque Terre trail in one day. Though why anyone would have that as their goal is beyond me. The whole point of the Cinque Terre experience is…. well, the experience.
A Cabin in the Woods
Jessica and I could not afford to stay in any of the five Cinque Terre towns. Those $250+ per night rooms were for honeymooners and richy-riches only. Instead, we stayed in a small cabin at a campsite about 15 minutes away (by train and shuttle) from the northernmost Cinque Terre town. This put us away from the action, but what a fine choice we had made. So quiet and peaceful it was that our first night in the cabin we both slept for 11 straight hours.
The bathroom and showers were communal at the campgrounds, but our cabin had a little kitchenette so we enjoyed preparing our own meals. Which brings me to a topic that may spark intense controversy. The pasta dish I made in the cabin may have been better than any we’d eaten yet in Italy. It was simply Barilla brand pasta sauce (basil) from a jar over sautéed onions and bell peppers on penne pasta. The Italian food we’ve been eating in Italy has been good, but not quite as outstanding as I was expecting.
Ready for my complaints about Italian food? Well, here I go anyway. Italian pasta dishes don’t use enough sauce. The sauce is the best part so why not load it up? (That’s why my pasta dish in the cabin was better.) How about the pizza? Relative to other choices the pizzas here were not expensive. Which means, we ate a lot of them. But here’s the problem. A pizza “ristorante” can be found on every corner of Italy….and each one just as identical as the last. No creativity. Once upon a time, someone must have created the first pizza restaurant menu, and then passed out copies of it to every other restaurant in the country. We saw the same exact list of pizzas (e.g., Napoli, Capriciosa, Margherita, 4 Formagio (4 cheese), Siciliana, and about eight more) over and over again with no variation. The fact that there were 15 or so pizzas to choose from was okay, my complaint is only that every parlor served the same 15 pizzas.
Every pizza was thin-crust and they all came in just one size–> medium. Almost never were they cut into slices either; you had to do that yourself at the table. Awkward! Another thing that bugged me was that if your pizza had olives on it, they weren’t pitted. C’mon, people! Would it kill you to put olives without pits on your pizzas? And finally, the concept of build-your-own pizza does not exist here.
In conclusion, Italian food is good, but doesn’t match the hype it generally receives.
Trail Closed, No Entry
The five towns that make up Cinque Terre are: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggoire. I have listed them in order from west to east only because that is the direction we hiked. Now for a little womp-waahh– not all of the trails between the towns were open while we were there. We were still able to walk from one town to the other because there are multiple paths- upper and lower -linking them together. The Monterosso to Vernazza lower path was perfect, but several of the other lower paths (the ones that you see in all the travel magazines) were closed for repair.
This meant that between Vernazza and Corniglia we hiked the longer and more challenging trail that climbed up and over the high hills dividing them. While it would have been nice to have all of the lower trails open, that hardly diminished our good time. Walking the upper-trails was extremely rewarding, too. From on high we gained spectacular vistas of the town we’d just left, and the next one we were approaching, (sometimes even the next two).
Corniglia had a mesmerizing set of stairs that led to/from the train station. This is awesome!
From Manarola and Riomaggoire, the high trail was knee-achingly steep. For that leg, Jessica chose the train over hiking. We said our see you shortlies and headed off in independent directions. So close together were these two towns that I zoomed up the trail, over the pass, and down into Riomaggoire all in about 45 minutes. Weirdly, that was about the same amount of time it took Jessica by train, inclusive of her 40 minute wait before the train arrived.
For us, Riomaggoire was the last town in the series. For most, however, it is where the five-village hop begins. For that reason we found the place at the beginning of the lower trail where lovers place their locks on the railing. So romantic! It was clear we’d found the spot for many a marriage proposal. (Jessica and I were amused, but not swayed.)
Our enduring good memories of Cinque Terre will be split between the expansive, breathtaking views our eyes captured from the trails and the peaceful, cozy time spent in our little cabin at the campsite. We could live like this forever, we thought.
Our final stop in Italy was the home of our good friend Boris. The same Boris that we traveled with in New Zealand. The same Boris that lives in Perth, Australia. His home city is Padova, Italy. Though he won’t be anywhere near there, his family has welcomed us and there we will stay for a few days before heading to Slovenia. Stay with us.